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Prada Cup: INEOS Team UK continues to confound the pundits on a frustrating Day 2

by Ben Gladwell/Sail-World 16 Jan 10:08 GMT 16 January 2021
Luna Rossa - Waitemata Harbour - Day 2 - Prada Cup - January 16, 2020 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Day 2 of the Prada Cup continued to turn the challenger form book inside out.

American Magic, the highly fancied team from the New York Yacht Club, was widely expected to emerge as top challenger from the Round Robin phase of the Challenger Selection Series.

Instead they have come away from two days of racing without scoring a win point. INEOS Team UK, written off by most commentators before the regatta, has emerged with three points from three races.

Despite Regatta Director, Iain Murray's expectations to the contrary, the SW breeze filled in and racing started on schedule just after 3 pm as originally scheduled.

Today's forecast was for breezes around 10 knots, which would be less suitable for INEOS based on her performance in marginal foiling conditions, in December's America's Cup World Series and the Xmas Cup

The British syndicate came out yesterday on Day 1, putting a stranglehold on the Prada Cup and shocking the sailing world. Ben Ainslie and crew dominated their competitors and took home two easy wins. They showed excellent pace in the denser south-westerly wind that hovered around 15 knots. Despite their impressive Day 1, there was still speculation that they may struggle in the lighter winds forecast for today.

Yesterday the breeze filled in nicely with a solid 12 to 15 knots, in which the Brits were foiling easily, with a softer south-westerly, today's conditions were always going to be a moment of truth for the Brits.

Auckland's weather has turned it on again, following up the stunning Day 1 with another great day for sailing on Day 2. Racing was on Course C again, close to North Head. Would this be the northern side of the course pay as heavily as Day 1?

Race 1: American Magic vs Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

Luna Rossa got away to a very nice start, while American Magic got stuck off the foils deep in the start box. The Italian syndicate set off on the first beat at double the speed of the Americans. Spithill and Bruni stepped out to a 300m lead very quickly. Things went from bad to worse for Barker and Hutchinson as they slipped off the foils during a maneuver as they entered the top third of the course.

Luna Rossa looked very much in control as they did during the Xmas Cup, doing a small touch down on their final tack before the mark but rounded tidily and set off downwind towards the right-hand boundary while American Magic still couldn't get foiling again.

Race officials deemed there to be sufficient wind to get the race under way but at the top of the course it looked extremely light. Luna Rossa's boat speed dropped below the magic number of around 17 knots required for foiling as they completed their boundary gybe and splashed down into the water themselves. Spithill and Bruni had to turn back and sail upwind to get to the next puff of wind so that they could get under way again. Meanwhile American Magic is still to round the first mark, now more than five minutes behind.

At this time, the officials decided to shorten the race to two laps, which still would have seemed a daunting undertaking for both crews who were powerless but to sail in displacement mode, searching for some breeze.

Luna Rossa found the breeze first but were forced to gybe at the boundary and were unable to get foiling again. In the background, American Magic, found a small puff as they approached the top mark. They rounded the mark with a serious chronological mountain to climb at 7:30 behind. Timing proved irrelevant however, as Luna Rossa only held a lead of 400m and the American crew had a VMG of around 3-4kts better as the deficit was slashed to just 100m.

Luna Rossa was again foiled by the boundary and had to gybe at the same time as they sailed out the front of their puff of wind, and dropped back into the water while the Americans stayed in the breeze and streaked away down the run to a lead of 600m before both boats were again becalmed.

Desperately sailing back and forwards scouring the course for some wind, the Italians found some breeze and set off to the bottom mark again, now sailing 30 knots faster than the Americans. The game of nautical snakes and ladders continued as Luna Rossa pulled out again to an 800m lead as American Magic finally found another gust.

Luna Rossa rounded the first bottom mark about 500m in front, the lay line calls being more crucial than ever as every maneuver was a game of Russian roulette. American Magic nailed their lay line and got around the bottom of the course and set off upwind, going as far as possible and tacking right on the boundary to try to reduce the number of times they rolled the dice as they tack. Both crews were sailing extremely wide up the beat, with boat speeds in the 20s but VMG numbers in the low single figures.

Both AC75s touched down, and we were back to watching more conventional style sailing. It begs the question of whether there will come the point that one or both boats abandon the attempts to foil and just sail in displacement mode and sail some normal angles and finish the race within the time limit.

Bruni and Spithill found some comparatively decent breeze up the right-hand boundary and completed a series of short foiling tacks as they worked their way towards finding a lay line into the mark. Their boat seed provided enough apparent wind to get to the mark despite the very flat water at the top of the course. They rounded the final mark with 12mins 30sec left before the race clock would time out.

Meanwhile onboard American Magic, things weren't going so well. Now more 2.5km behind, they struggled to get foiling and make their way towards the mark. It seemed now that Luna Rossa would finish the race before American Magic would get to the third mark as the Italians found a miracle puff and were heading for the finish at 40 knots.

A few short maneuvers at the bottom of the course got Luna Rossa across the line, finishing more than 3km and one leg ahead of American Magic. The race was summed up by an audible sigh from Barker that came across from the boat comms.

Race 2: INEOS Team UK vs American Magic

INEOS, having spent an hour watching the other syndicates battling the conditions more than each other, was champing at the bit to get on the course. Ben Ainslie was on the race radio asking permission to get on course immediately after Race 1 was terminated by race control.

Suffice to say Ainslie and crew will have their work cut out, as they are still nervous about their light airs performance.

Life didn't seem to be getting much better for Barker and his crew, earning a penalty for entering the start box early, though if the first race was anything to go by, two boat lengths would be an easy penalty to wash off. Ainslie literally sailed circles around the American boat in the pre-start, American Magic again struggling to foil and could only watch their competitor race away at 30 plus knots. Again American Magic was looking at a deficit of more than 600m before they made it as far as the first boundary.

INEOS looked set to extend away like they did in both races yesterday, however the top mark was a car park and they put the boat down in the water and stopped dead while American Magic tore towards them at 30 plus knots, only to do the same and park beside them. INEOS squeezed a couple of knots of boat speed out of the fraction of breeze that came through and rounded the mark only a few boat lengths clear yet almost 2:00 ahead on the clock.

Both boats seemed momentarily content to sail in displacement mode and make some distance down the course rather than go searching for the wind. That plan was scratched around the same time discussions on American Magic turned to using the downwash from the helicopter to help them gybe and they both went back to bouncing between the boundaries, trying to find something to help them get going. At this time, INEOS held a lead of 350m.

Once that was proven unfruitful, both AC75s went back to traditional means and set off towards the bottom mark, sailing VMG in a displacement mode, hovering around the 7-8 knot mark. There seemed to be breeze all over the Hauraki Gulf, with flags on spectator boats easily flying, except the area where the racecourse. The breeze looked better further down the course and as the leader INEOS got to it first and as is often the way in sailing, the rich got richer, but not hitting the foiling jackpot.

It was American Magic who picked up a puff and again, set off at 30 knots, though could only pare their deficit back to 450m before INEOS cashed in too and got back on track. Ainslie and crew did a better job of staying in their puff of wind and continued to foil away, galloping out to a lead of more than 1,200m before they rounded the first bottom mark. It looked set to be another very long race for the American syndicate - staring down the barrel of finishing the first round-robin with no points.

It's hard to pick how much of the delta between the boats is good fortune and how much is good management, but it certainly seems INEOS has made some strong steps towards improving their lamentable light airs performance from late last year. And American Magic must be concerned at this stage, falling more than a leg behind for the second race in a row. One of the British crew could be heard hard-pressed to suppress a chuckle as he declared that "They're still stuck down at the bottom," as his crew bore down on the final top mark.

At this point, INEOS was more concerned about beating the race clock than their competitors. Should the race clock time out, the race would be abandoned and they would not be awarded any points for the race.

After copping quite a few snakes, American Magic finally landed on a ladder, finding a nice vein of pressure up the right-hand boundary, and spent a sustained time on the foils, coming from nearly 3km behind to be a comparatively close 1,200m back. INEOS, who had been sitting in displacement mode, watching the race clock tick down, had finally made their way into the same river of pressure that lifted them onto the foils and the battle against the clock swung back in their favour. The fate of the race would be decided by INEOS' final gybe at the boundary, if they failed to foil, there was not enough time or racetrack remaining for them to get going again. The final gybe was a good one and the crossed the finish line with 2:00 on the clock and a 2,200m lead over their competitors.

American Magic, will most likely be having some frank conversations about their performance tonight, and pleased that stronger breezes are forecast for the final day of the first bracket of Round Robin racing in the Qualifiers.

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